A Wilson County man was recently exonerated for crimes he did not commit after spending decades behind bars.
Lawrence McKinney was wrongfully convicted of rape and burglary in 1978 and spent more than 30 years in prison before having his convictions overturned when DNA evidence revealed he did not commit the crimes.
Gubernatorial candidate and former State Senator Mae Beavers as well as State Senator Elect Mark Pody expressed extreme gratitude to Governor Bill Haslam, who formally exonerated McKinney on Dec. 20.
“The prayers of many people were answered today,” said Beavers. “But most importantly, the prayers of Lawrence McKinney, a man whose complete adult life was spent wrongfully behind bars, were answered by Governor Haslam. Mr. McKinney will never be able to get those years back, yet hopefully he will now be able to move forward with his life as a truly free man.”
Beavers and Pody, as well as his pastor John Hunn and many other advocates, have worked for years to shed light on McKinney’s situation. Beavers and Pody even sponsored a bill in the last legislative session that would allow the automatic exoneration of someone who has had their conviction overturned but who has spent more than 25 years in jail.
The exoneration would not be dependent on the approval of the Parole Board or the Governor.
“It was an extreme injustice when [former] Governor Phil Bredesen refused to act on McKinney’s request for exoneration, and when Parole Board refused to recommend his exoneration,” said Pody. “However, the Shelby County District Attorney and the Shelby County Criminal Court correctly overturned his conviction, and now Mr. McKinney is truly innocent in the eyes of the law.”
When he was released, McKinney was given only $75 to start his new life as a free man. McKinney’s exoneration will now allow him to make a claim to the state’s Board of Claims, so that he might receive compensation for his imprisonment. He can file a claim to receive a maximum of $1 million.